Painting of cookbooks on bookshelves

Go-To Cookbooks 8″ x 8″ Gouache and Watercolor Pencil. Sharyn Dimmick

When I am not cooking or blogging or writing, I am singing or listening to music. I am departing for a few days for San Francisco’s jewel, the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival. But before I go, my friend Robin asked me a while back how I learned to cook. I learned in all of the usual ways: helping other people with kitchen tasks, asking for recipes, having conversations about food, watching food shows on T.V., cooking from books , recipe cards and newspaper columns, reading the food section, tasting food and trying to recreate it in my kitchen and, now, suddenly, from the brave new world of food blogs. But the first cookbook I ever consulted was my mother’s copy of

1)  Betty Crocker’s Picture Cookbook, Revised and Enlarged, published by McGraw-Hill. This is a classic old cookbook with useful sections on substituting ingredients. This edition (1956) is in a ring binder format and features basic recipes for simple foods: how to roast a turkey, bake cinnamon rolls, make an apple pie. All of the standards are here: corn bread, biscuits, waffles, cookies, baked custards. Hmm. I probably use this more for baking then cooking, but I still use it frequently. I was delighted to find my own copy in a used bookstore some years ago.

2)  Bittersweet by Alice Medrich taught me a lot about high cacao chocolates. I make her Tiger Cake (an olive oil marble cake) often with variations and her cacao nib whipped cream must be one of the best things on the planet. I also like her Marble Cheesecake made with quark that I get at the farmers’ market.

3)  Baking with the St. Paul Bread Club has yielded recipes for good breads. My top two are Finnish Cardamom Bread and Bittersweet Chocolate-Ginger Bread.

4)  The Cheese Board Collective Works taught me how to make homemade sourdough and to bake it by throwing ice cubes into a hot oven. I may have rusted out one of our ovens, but I learned how to make baguettes and wolverines (a whole wheat sourdough bun filled with dried fruit and walnuts). Day to day, I use their (non-sourdough) pizza dough recipe with all its tips for pulling the dough and their basic whole wheat bread recipe (which I cut with unbleached flour). The Cheese Board is a local treasure for area residents.

5)  Chez Panisse Desserts taught me all about fruit caramel and fruit curd variations. Thanks, Lindsey and Alice! Eating at Chez Panisse is a treat and this is the most accessible of their books.

6)  China Moon Cookbook. The late Barbara Tropp cooked wonderful new Chinese food and left this book behind for the rest of us. The book features homemade condiments and many recipes. I go there most often to make her cookies and the ginger ice cream with bittersweet chocolate sauce.

7)  Coffee by Charles and Violet Shafer. I keep this book around for the Oatmeal Bread recipe on page 105. Sweetened with maple syrup and made with a sponge method, it makes the best toast.

8)  Henry Chung’s Hunan Style Chinese Cookbook. I used to live in San Francisco and go to Hunan to eat Henry Chung’s Hot and Sour Chicken. Then a friend gave me the book so I could cook it at home, which I do — often. I also make use of Chung’s Chicken and Cucumber Salad and hot and sour dressing recipes.

9)  Ajanta: Regional Feasts of India by Lachu Moorjani. I covered this in my post on Indian Eggplant, but in case you missed it, Ajanta is another local treasure of a restaurant and Moorjani’s cookbook lets you recreate some of his recipes, especially if you get it with his spice box (and he always has a special deal going).

10) The Greens Cookbook by Deborah Madison and Edward Espe Brown. This is a great resource for vegetable stocks, such as their wild mushroom stock, and seasonal menus. I often flip to the index if I don’t have any inspiration for a given vegetable.

This is not a “Top Ten” List, but a list of books I use frequently and what I use them for. I’ll add more of my favorites in future posts. I’ll be back next week with a recipe, perhaps based on something wonderful I eat at the festival.

If you would like to share favorite cookbooks of yours, please use the comment section to tell us all about them.

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